Begging to Cross U.S.-Mexico Border

AP, May 2, 2008

Josefa Gonzalez Loya has sneaked across the Mexican border at least 128 times in the past eight years. And each time, the Border Patrol has been nice enough to give her a lift home.

Gonzalez and a group of other women and children—all Indians from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca—have no interest in staying in the United States. All they want to do is panhandle outside El Paso businesses, using the children as lures.

At the end of a productive day, they wait for the Border Patrol to come pick them up and drive them back to the border.

Little dramas like this play out day after day, accounting for thousands of arrests but hardly any prosecutions in the past several years.

The Oaxacan migrants fall under a loophole that gives border agents discretion to keep some adults and children together and out of jail.

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Mad dash across Rio Grande

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Once she makes it across [the Rio Grande], Gonzalez, who speaks only a language common among Indians in Oaxaca, catches a bus to a strip mall a few miles away from the border, just far enough into El Paso to evade agents on patrol. There she starts begging for spare change.

Border agents say when she and her entourage are ready to go home, they muster in front of a store. Then they wait, knowing their presence will create enough of a nuisance that agents will come pick them up. When they do, the beggars’ mugshots are taken and their fingerprints checked. Then they are walked back across the border.

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Gonzalez has been arrested 128 times. Despite a crackdown on illegal immigration along much of the border, she and most of her tribal members have never been jailed.

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Gonzalez and her crew seem well-aware of the law. The women all claim the children as their own, but that would mean women obviously in their 50s and 60s have just had babies. Often the same child is claimed by different women on different days. And still, the agents err on the side of keeping the self-proclaimed “families” together.

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